Thoughts on the Internet Identity Workshop 2005 Day 1

Overall, I am really enjoying this workshop. It serves as a great high speed primer for a variety of identity issues and technologies.

Some highlights from the presentations so far:

Doc Searls – Identity in the marketplace: The Rise of Fully Empowered Customer
It’s always good to hear Doc give a talk. His belief that the web is a marketplace, a place for business and culture definitely has a Diamond Age feel to it. His example of customer freedom from vendor CRM shackles is an interesting one. Though his example of renting car is certainly valid and demonstrates the reverse nature of our world today, I’d love to get the vendors’ perspective on this. There are a few people from Yahoo in the audience and I am sure that they have some strong opinions about the freeing of identity.

Brad FitzpatrickOpenID

Brad put on the best show of the day, by far. It was a very Dada affair full of self-criticism. It was a simple talk about how OpenID works and why it does what it does. A simple tool for a specific problem… frickin’ brilliant. OpenID is a way to prove you own a URL using an identity provider you trust. Fairly simple. I sat there wondering why, when we see a simple solution, we say, “That’s all it does?” Why is it that we seem to always want some grandiose solution to a massive problem. What happened to elegant, simple solutions to problem? For that matter, what happened to problems that can be expressed in a few words and not an onslaught of slides?

Paul TrevithickSocial Physics and The Higgins Trust Framework

Paul and co’s work has lead them to the conclusion there is no identity independent of context. Context is the real king here. Not individual demographic attributes. Not roles. Not protocols. It the the context of interaction between users, trusted parties, vendors, etc that is the real domain of identity.

I applaud the group’s work around creating the Framework. It is an abstraction layer that helps tie the vast array of user information to contexts appropriately. Paul’s honesty on the subject of implementation are hard was definitely a welcome admission.

After hearing his presentation, I was a little annoyed that I hadn’t heard of this before. You’d think if you have read my Shadows of Identity piece that I would have already been an versed in Higgins. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strange how things happen sometimes.

Other thoughts:
Although these presentations today do not represent the entirety of the identity world, they are a sketch of the problems and solutions out there. It seems to me that there is so much attention to possible solutions, technologies, protocols, and the like that we are losing sight of the problems we have set out to solve. To me, there are two general classes of problems. First, there are the problems of an individual. How do I manage my identities out there? How do I describe what data about me I will allow to be disclosed? Who can get that data? The second class of problems are relationship-based where the relations involve more than two parties. How do I share my perferences and needs with an entire market? One question I keep coming back to is, if we figure out a way to solve both classes of problems, who is going to pay for it?

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